EVERYTHING about Garhi Khuda Bakhsh is surreal, especially if one is travelling to the Bhutto family mausoleum at night. On the dark, desolate road to Garhi, the mausoleum pops up from the darkness, bathed in white light, a mixture of Sufi dargah, Mughal monument and political statement. Whatever one thinks of the PPP’s politics, the structure is striking.
Perhaps considering the role those entombed inside it have played in national politics, it may be a befitting monument, especially considering the Bhuttos’ status as politicians-cum-folk heroes in Sindh. After all, as one government official posted at the mausoleum told this writer, while visitors come to pay their respects to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, some also come to “have their prayers answered”.
Considering the tragic way in which both father and daughter left this world, perhaps such a phenomenon is understandable, especially when one considers the strong culture of attachment to Sufi saints in Sindh; hence, it is not surprising that ZAB and BB have evolved into political ‘martyrs’ with an almost ‘mystical’ aura about them in Sindh. Whilst both were capable leaders in real life but never far from the hurly-burly and grit of politics, in death they have been beatified, particularly by their supporters in Sindh.
Perhaps that’s why in the run-up to the BB’s death anniversary, the environment in Larkana, home base of the Bhuttos, and its surroundings, is far from gloomy. In fact, as one walks and drives through the streets of Larkana, Naudero and Garhi Khuda Bakhsh itself, the feeling is more of being present at a political carnival.
All along the route to Garhi as well as in Larkana proper the PPP has set up camps to welcome supporters coming from across Sindh and across Pakistan. Large banners bearing larger than life portraits of provincial, district and local office-bearers crowd the banners, while the Bhuttos are also squeezed in.
PPP tunes, including the anthem Dilan Teer Bijan, blare out from stereos, as supporters break out in dance. In the dusty streets of Naudero, bands of youths march raising slogans and waving PPP flags and that of the Sindh Peoples Student Federation. Security, of course, was tight, as police personnel patrol the surroundings. All entrances to the Bhutto mazaar were sealed on Thursday night apart from one. Inside the mausoleum complex, however, was a different world.
A smattering of PPP workers, curious villagers and security men milled about. Perhaps the small crowd was a result of the biting cold at that time of night. To beat the cold vendors hawked boiled eggs, chaat, poppadums and of course steaming hot tea. But, as some present at the mausoleum remarked, the crowd would start building up by daybreak.
The stage set up for the event was impressive; in fact, it resembled something out of a rock concert, complete with bright lights, brighter PPP colours and portraits of BB, Asif Zardari, Bilawal and ZAB. As a technician told this writer, sound and light specialists had been brought in from Lahore and Karachi.
Again all this is understandable; Dec 27 has turned into an annual show of strength for the PPP, especially this year, when it was routed across the country in general elections except in Fortress Sindh. “No other party has a real presence in this area. People have an affinity for the Bhutto family. Mohtarma gave jobs to the people,” remarked Rashid Abro, a Naudero-based journalist.
“They may have been waderas, but they were waderas with a heart. They mixed with the awaam,” added Manzoor Mangi, a local poet.
Perhaps that’s what lies behind the Bhutto mystique in Sindh. ZAB and BB’s populist political legacy mixed with the fact that no other party has tried to reach out to Sindh’s people ensures that despite all the serious allegations of corruption and misrule directed at the PPP, especially in its last stint in power, it will continue to attract voters in the province. Even if the broken streets and ramshackle homes right outside the Bhutto mausoleum are a world away from the gleaming structure inside the high walls of the complex.